• Serving independent schools and colleges with since 1990

30 Years of Innovations: Defining the Standard


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As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of SAGE Dining Services®, we’re looking back at how our programs have evolved throughout the years. At SAGE, change is the only constant. We’re continually developing new and better ways to deliver exceptional dining experiences. 

Our co-founders, Tina and Paco Rodriguez, realized from SAGE’s beginning that food can have a transformative impact on students they named the company for “Setting A Good Example®.” Tina and Paco made it their mission to support independent schools and small colleges because of the formative need among this community. Since 1990, SAGE has been Defining the Standard for independent school food service as a financial and educational partner to all school stakeholders business officers, students, and parents alike. SAGE’s example has driven the food service industry toward more scratch cooking, greater financial transparency, and more food allergy awareness 

As a private company, SAGE retains the freedom to do things right such as partnering only with private educational institutions whose mission aligns with our own and accepting new business only when we have sufficient personnel and resources to deliver an exceptional program. From the beginning, Tina and Paco have never cut corners which means cooking from scratch, engineering custom software, making sure local suppliers are safe, and providing a $35 million umbrella insurance policy for every client. 

While more providers have entered campus dining, SAGE has been Defining the Standard in all these areas. We believe so strongly in scratch cooking that we’re the first and only company to actually measure it. We place no limits on the number of small, local suppliers our Chefs can work with, because we want to support companies like ours. Our District Managers oversee half as many accounts as competitors do, so we can provide the highest service level possible. Our allergen filter is the best in the industry and makes those with food allergies feel included. We manage our schools’ money as if it were our own in the spirit of true financial transparency and partnership. 

In this series, we’ll cover the different kinds of innovations that have made SAGE a company of firsts.

30 Years of Innovations: Food Service Management & The Culinary Experience 

Here we explore the innovations in food service management and the culinary experience that have enabled us to build lasting partnerships and serve outstanding, healthy food. 

Before 2001
Financial transparency – Since our founding, SAGE’s philosophy has been to maintain open and transparent billing with our academic partners. In contrast with other companies’ five-line reports, which had “miscellaneous” as the third-largest line, our 50-line breakdown was revolutionary. The idea was to educate the business officer about the external business operating on their campus, figuring that if they understood what SAGE was doing for them, it would elevate a business relationship to a trust-based partnership. It worked, and the entire industry followed suit.

Community-inclusive dining advocacy With community-inclusive dining, meals are included as part of the tuition, which allows all students to fully participate in the SAGE program. The benefits of this approach include:

  • Simplified dining: no need to pack lunches, bring cash or cards, or fund accounts.  

  • Greater selection and variety: expanded student palates.  

  • More sustainability: less food waste and no packaging.  

  • Faster service: no checkout necessary and unlimited seconds.  

  • Nutrient-dense options: complete and satisfying meals

Higher service levels We provide outstanding customer service and an unparalleled level of support for the communities we serve. By overseeing no more than 10 venues — less than half the industry average — District Managers are able to spend quality time visiting each one at least two full days each month to check in and address any concerns.

SAGEware® The whole point of SAGEware, our proprietary enterprise software, is to help us better manage our accounts and communicate with our clients. It started out in 1990 as a game changer the best in its class and we’ve kept it that way with updates. We were the first in the industry to put a computer at all Managers’ desks, which enabled them to use SAGEware to give clients detailed weekly financial reports.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety in every kitchen The Food and Drug Administration’s HACCP guidelines and regulations are the industry standard for sourcing, storing, preparing, and serving food. Our Team Members go through HACCP training and testing, and daily team meetings ensure reiteration of protocol. District Managers run monthly audits on HACCP and safety, including the proper use of personal protective equipment.

100% antibiotic- and hormone-free milk, cage-free and Certified Humane® eggs, and antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken We exclusively purchase milk, eggs, and chicken from farms that treat individual animals with antibiotics only in response to a diagnosed illness, rather than prophylactically treating the entire population, and never give them artificial hormones. During processing, products from antibiotic-treated cows and chickens are tested for the presence of residual antibiotics, and they come to us only if they’re entirely free of antibiotic residue and artificial hormones. Any antibiotic use in animals increases their likelihood of antibiotic resistance, which could transfer to humans and lead both to suffer from incurable infections. Certified Humane standards further improve animal care and well-being by creating an environment more like the way hens would live naturally and reducing their risk of illness, injury, and discomfort.

Educational Seasonings – We bring learning into the dining hall with interactive monthly events called Educational Seasonings. Our informational guides, creative displays, and tasting stations give students a chance to learn about history, science, culinary skills, and unusual ingredients — and sample new foods! The fun and varied topics have included Moroccan Cuisine; The Art of Making Bread; Thanksgiving in Civil War Times; and Waste Not, Want Not. This program has been a fantastic opportunity for students to learn about foods that might have been unfamiliar to them.

Digital menu boards– At each of our dining stations, there are student-friendly digital tablets with the names of the available menu items, the allergens they contain, and where they fall in the spectrum of nutrient density. These menu boards give community members easy access to information about their food and beverage choices to help them build their meal based on their personal and dietary preferences.

Menu Builder – Managers use our web-based menu writing tool to create a unique set of offerings for each location based on community members’ tastes and preferences. This program supports online access to menus, recipe ingredients, our allergen filter, Performance Spotlight™ for athletes, pricing and food labels for retail items, and more.

Improvisations®, Paquito’s®, Pacific Thyme, Crossroads, and Vegitas® concepts Tina and Paco designed our dining concepts to introduce students to a wide variety of culinary techniques and trends and to ultimately change school food service.

  • Improvisations brings variety and creativity to the conventional salad bar with Chef-composed salads. 

  • Paquito’s and Pacific Thyme make international fare authentic and educational by offering complete meals from one featured region, along with signage about the meal’s country of origin. 

  • Crossroads is the intersection of fun and flavor, with an ever-changing variety of tastes and cuisines that put a street-food twist on international foods. 

  • Vegitas includes complete, nutritionally balanced vegetarian dishes that are interesting, colorful, and good sources of protein. 

Touch of SAGE™ Mobile App Our app ensures quality by enabling community members to provide real-time feedback and create and save custom allergen profiles. They can view and rate menu items, indicate how often they’d like to see those options, provide comments and photos, and reach their SAGE team directly. They can also view complete ingredient lists and filter menus for allergens and eating patterns to see which items meet their needs. For athletes, there are resources to teach them when and how to fuel, hydrate, and recover.

Scratch Factor® We’ve always prepared meals from scratch, and Scratch Factor is a formula we developed to measure how much we cook from scratch. Every item on a SAGE menu has its own Scratch Factor measurement; our Chefs regularly reference this tool in their menu creation. We currently average about 80% from-scratch cooking.

Test Kitchens Select schools serve as Test Kitchens for our new recipes to help us learn what works best. These communities sample and rate our latest creations and have a say in which ones we include in our recipe database. We can then ensure quality and taste before serving these dishes at other venues.

Next we cover SAGE’s innovations in health and wellness. 

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On the Road with RDs: FNCE

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Alternative Proteins — Can a Burger Save Us?

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